Defending champions UJ crack tough NWU, through to 2nd consecutive FNB Varsity Football final

The 2021 FNB Varsity Football champions, the senior men’s football team of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), made it to their second consecutive final of the tournament. This comes after an entertaining 2-0 victory over visitors FNB North West University (NWU) on Thursday evening, 15 September 2022 at the UJ Soweto Stadium.

A nervy beginning for the hosts culminated in a series of half chances for the visitors as they asserted themselves early in the game. The Orange Army settled in and began creating chances through Thulani Zandamela whose attempts were easily dealt with by NWU keeper Luzoku Jevuka.

UJ won 2-0 against NWU in the semi-final of the 2022 FNB Varsity Football tournament
UJ won 2-0 against NWU in the semi-final of the 2022 FNB Varsity Football tournament. Photo: UJ Sport

In the 30th minute, NWU playmaker Omphile Shuping thought he’d opened the scoring with beautiful control and a shot at goal which the UJ goalkeeper, Richard Banga, saved to keep the score 0-0 heading into half-time. The first half was intense and cagey with both sides creating half chances, but without goals.

“The win tonight means a lot to all of us, the fans and everyone who is behind U. It shows our consistency as a team and that the project is sustainable. The efforts of the UJ management are working for the institution. So, going into another final means so much and it shows growth and perfection. We are where we should be. I am hoping that we will retain the title just to put the icing on the cake,” said Captain Neo Lebopa.

UJ began the second half with two changes; Thanda Madiba and captain Neo Lebopa came in. Madiba immediately mounted attacks on the visitors. The hosts took control of the match and in the 53rd minute, a sophisticated combination play between Gerard Ndlovu and Thulani Zandamela resulted in the number 10 (Zandamela) rattling the cross bar, sending the crowd into a roar. UJ’s attempts at goal started a wave of attacks at the NWU goalkeeper, with UJ hitting the cross bar twice.

Midfield maestro Advocate Mokwena once again showed his class with another standout performance in midfield. In the 55th minute, Mokwena’s incisiveness and control resulted in another chance created and this time vice-captain Maselesele Makoti, thought he had opened the score only for the woodwork to deny him and the hosts the opening goal of the game.

Mokwena was crowned Man of the Match for the second consecutive time, his third accolade in this tournament.

“This is special. Firstly, thank you to the Orange Army supporters and the students that came out in numbers. We wanted their support and push in this game.

“Coming here as a Sports Manager at Kings School Robin Hills with my means a lot. This is their third game if I am not mistaken and I want them to see this type of high performance football at varsity level where the stakes are high,” explained Coach Thando Zulu.

The crowd was electric and gave UJ a morale boost to continue searching for an opening goal. In the 65th minute UJ’s talisman, Zandamela, had a good chance but his pass was too much for Advocate Mokwena who managed to win a corner kick. From the resulting corner, the hosts were rewarded for their thrilling start in the second half with a neat finish from Mokena.

NWU began to settle late on after the hosts’ blistering start to the second half with possession and pushing for an equalizer. However, UJ looked extremely dangerous on the counter. In the 82nd minute, the eagles had  their best chance of the game with an effort by Omphile Shuping.

A minute later, a counter attack by Siphiwe Manana in a solo run and unselfish play laid the ball to Thulani Zandamela for a tap in to make it 2-0. This year, Zandamela continued to have a scintillating tournament with five goals, becoming the top scorer thus far.

UJ will take on FNB Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in the final on Thursday, 22 September 2022 at 18:00 at the UJ Soweto Stadium. The two teams have locked horns twice in the 2021 campaign, with TUT winning the group stage match and UJ winning the semi-final match on penalties at the University of Pretoria (UP-Tuks) Stadium.

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